Today is World Food Day. Last year, The Herald marked World Food Day by introducing A Menu for Change, a project to reduce the number of people turning to food banks in Scotland. A year on, A Menu for Change has a positive story to tell about how this is being done in Fife, Dundee and East Ayrshire.
The problem was never a lack of food. It’s a lack of income. It’s poverty. If you are living on the breadline, the freeze on benefits and introduction of Universal Credit, squeeze on wages and rising cost of living will be hitting you hard. In the last eight years, UK welfare spending has been cut by £37 billion – equivalent to the entire Scottish Government budget – and over 200 food banks have begun operating in Scotland. While the powers to raise the minimum wage, ban zero hours contracts and reform the social security system lie with Westminster, there is a limit to what can be done north of the border.
But we are not powerless. A Menu for Change has been testing how much can be done with the resources and responsibilities we already have.
In North Lanarkshire, since 2015 the local authority has worked with local services to agree a shared and simple pathway which helps people with no money for food access the advice and support they’re entitled to. This tries to prevent future crises, puts the Scottish Welfare Fund at the heart of the system, and leaves the food bank as the last resort. Local food banks have seen 22% fewer visitors as a result.
In Dundee and Fife, local services are using this example to coordinate their own support and advice to ensure people get all the income they are entitled to before they seek emergency food aid. Faith in Community Dundee is training advisors across Dundee to make sure everyone knows what support is available so all other avenues have been exhausted before anyone is referred to the food bank.
The Maxwell Centre, a thriving community centre in Dundee, has been the biggest referrer to Scotland’s biggest food bank for many years. Frustrated by their ability to only give out vouchers, which entitle someone to get a food parcel from the food bank, they have recruited an advice worker of their own. With their expertise, people will now get advice to prevent a crisis in the future and a benefit check to make sure they are getting everything they should.
East Ayrshire Citizens’ Advice Bureau is planning an emergency telephone line to give people in rural areas access to advice and support if they have run out of money for food. This way people can make an informed choice about what action they can take to meet their needs instead of there being no option but to go to the food bank.
In Fife and East Ayrshire, two groups of people who have previously had to rely on emergency food aid have decided to set up local buying clubs. Together they’ll be reducing their shopping bills, spreading the cost of food and providing a source of support to people in their community who have run out of money.
It’s scandalous that on any day, people in Scotland struggle to find the money they need to buy basic essentials like food. While we wait for politicians to use their powers to raise the lowest levels of income, we don’t have to look far to learn from communities around the country who are rolling up their sleeves and demonstrating that Scotland can challenge poverty and win.
Author: Polly Jones, Project Manager